Businesses, schools and organizations are taking steps to avoid the spread of illnesses by promoting personal hygiene and social distancing—like canceling large gatherings or having employees work from home—but emergency medical services will still have to respond to calls, even if COVID-19 reaches the area.

If a person is suspected of having COVID-19 or even if they are a confirmed case under home quarantine, EMS will still respond to their call for help. A confirmed case doesn’t mean EMS can decline responding.

“We’d still have to treat the patient,” said Chetek Ambulance Service director Ryan Olson. But they have procedures, equipment and training to ensure the safety of their crews and the public.

The first step will start with the 911 call to Barron County Dispatch Center. Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said when dispatchers get a health-related call, they will ask four questions about flu-like symptoms and the patient’s potential exposure to COVID-19. That information is then passed on to the responding EMS crew. If needed, they will don personal protective equipment.

“We have procedures in place for illnesses—masks, gowns and face shields, etc.—that we put on ourselves. We’d put a mask on the patient,” Olson explained.

These are not new procedures in response to just COVID-19, but are long-standing practices that they have prepared and trained for. The only change might be that they will radio ahead to the receiving hospital with the patient’s coronavirus status.

After transporting a patient, the ambulance rig is cleaned and sanitized. Cleaning solutions that kill viruses and bacteria are sprayed and equipment is wiped down.

“Everything gets hosed down after a call,” Olson said.

Panic buying has led to a shortage of face masks and hand sanitizer at stores and rationing at some hospitals. Fortunately, the shortages have not yet affected the CAS. When the H1N1 flu, known as the swine flu, spread in the U.S. in 2009, the local health department provided a supply of masks to the CAS. They still had most of that supply, Olson said.

“We typically don’t use a lot of them,” Olson said.

Olson said the public health department in the Barron County Department of Health & Human Services has comprehensive plans for illnesses like this.

Fitzgerald added that new protocols have been implemented at the Barron County Jail to reduce the risk of exposure to inmates and staff.

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